Impunity in the Philippines

PH response to ICC exposes Marcos’ empty words on human rights – groups

Jodesz Gavilan

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PH response to ICC exposes Marcos’ empty words on human rights – groups

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. joins Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, DOTr Secretary Jaime Bautista and other dignitaries, for the groundbreaking ceremony of the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit project, at the Fuente Osmeña Circle in Cebu City on February 27, 2023.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) President Marcos 'maintains the same policies and the same climate of impunity that had led Duterte and his minions to get away with murder,' says Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay

MANILA, Philippines – Groups slammed the Philippine government’s response to developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying this should send a signal to the world on President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s doublespeak on human rights. 

Human rights groups scored government officials’ recent statements antagonizing the international tribunal as Prosecutor Karim Khan continues investigating Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs.

Marcos on Tuesday, March 28, said the Philippine government was “disengaging from any contact, from any communication” with the ICC following the court’s decision to junk the Philippine government’s bid to suspend the probe while appeal proceedings are ongoing.

Karapatan said the continued aversion from proceedings at the ICC, refusing to even acknowledge the court’s important role, further exposes Marcos’ “empty platitudes and rhetoric” on the human rights situation in the Philippines. 

In a statement, Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said the international community should see that the justice system under Marcos has no intention of “investigating, prosecuting, and punishing” those responsible for the slaughter of thousands under the drug war.

“It is becoming increasingly evident that Marcos Jr. has no intentions of exacting justice and accountability from the perpetrators and in fact, maintains the same policies and the same climate of impunity that had led Duterte and his minions to get away with murder,” she said. 

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At least 6,252 people were killed in police operations alone under Duterte’s drug war as of May 2022, according to government data. This number does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, which human rights groups estimate to be between 27,000 to 30,000.

The ICC pre-trial chamber in January 2023 allowed the resumption of Prosecutor Khan’s investigation into the drug war killings after not being satisfied that the government was undertaking “relevant investigations.” 

The Philippines has appealed this decision, but has since been handed out rejection after rejection on other ICC-related motions. Aside from junking a bid to suspend the probe, the appeals chamber also rejected the government’s move to block witnesses from commenting, stating that it is “appropriate for victims to be involved” in the proceedings.

These positive developments at the ICC are not just a step towards justice for victims. In a statement, the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said these should serve as a warning to enablers of the killings, including those who continue to defend Duterte.

“It is also a message that we collectively cast to those who have praised violence and former President Duterte,” the group said, adding that any disengagement from the ICC is “a move that is synonymous to losing its case in an attempt to preserve impunity.”

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The Philippine Coalition for the ICC (PCICC) said it hopes that the Philippine government considers court’s decisions as “wake up calls” to act genuinely on the domestic level.

“[The decisions] give hope for justice to the families of victims of extrajudicial killings in the brutal war on drugs,” PCICC said in a statement.

“They are flickers of light amidst the darkness of impunity in our country.”

The Philippine government further distanced itself from the ICC with its move to reject democratic leaders’ acknowledgement of the tribunal’s “important” role, even if it endorses the entire Summit for Democracy Declaration as “testament to [its] unwavering commitment to upholding our democratic values and principles.” – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.